Eight Australians will tee it up at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the third LPGA Major Championship of the year. The tournament will be played over 72 holes from Thursday 28th June to Sunday 1st July at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, 60 kilometres north of Chicago and is operated by the PGA of America in partnership with the LPGA.
The prizemoney of US$3,650,000 will make it the third richest event in women’s golf, behind only the US Women’s Open and the Evian Championship. The course this week will play at 6,741 yards, and will be a stern test for a field which boasts 19 of the top 20 players on the Rolex Women's World Rankings. For the third time in as many years, each of the top 100 players on the LPGA Official Money List are included in the 156-player field, which also features 29 major champions.
Minjee Lee without doubt looks to have the best chance of the Aussies competing this week, and comes into the tournament full of confidence after a win at the LPGA Volvik Championship one month ago and a third place finish at last week’s North West Arkansas Championship.
The 22-year-old currently sits in third place in the LPGA Race to the CME Globe and has 7 top 10 finishes from her 14 LPGA starts to her credit in 2018. However Lee’s form in the major championships in 2018 has not matched up to that of her regular season events with a tie for 34th at the US Women’s Open the week after her win at the LPGA Volvik, and the tie for 25th at the ANA Inspiration in March.
Lee’s best finish in a major championship came at the ANA Inspiration in 2017 where she finished in a tie for 3rd place.
The young Western Australian looks to have a legitimate chance of claiming her first major championship this week but will need to be at her best with many of the world’s leading players coming into the championship in great form.
Minjee will tee off on Thursday at 8:40am alongside Frenchwoman Celine Herbin and English Solheim Cup star Jody Ewart-Shadoff.
Of the other Australians in the field Lee’s former Australian teammate Su Oh who has been in great form the past couple of months with 6 top 25 finishes in her last 8 starts. Oh has played six straight tournaments on the LPGA Tour heading into this week and in hindsight her missed cut last week in Arkansas may end up being a blessing in disguise as it provided the Victorian with a weekend to rest up and prepare for this week’s tournament.
There is no doubt the talented youngster has the ability to contend against the best and it would be no shock to see her name appear on the leaderboard at some point during the week.
Oh also gets the benefit of an early tee time in round 1, she will play at 8:00 am alongside Korean Jeong Eun Lee and up and coming Englishwoman Bronte Law.
Queenslander Sarah Jane Smith spent much of the week at last month’s US Women’s Open in contention and will be sure to have learned a lot for that experience where she ended up finishing tied for 5th place. That was Smith’s first taste of being in the heat of the battle at a major championship, and while her form in 2018 has been patchy the 33-year-old will come into this week armed with the benefit of that experience.
Smith’s Achilles heel continues to be putting 4 solid rounds together and if she can do that this week she has the game and the class to contend.
Smith will tee off at 9:00 am alongside Spain’s Luna Sobron and American Lindy Duncan.
Fellow Queenslander Katherine Kirk’s form has also been somewhat patchy since her 4th place finish at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open back in February. Kirk had somewhat of a resurgence of form in 2017 returning to the winners’ circle at the Thornberry Creek Classic and also went so close to capturing her first major championship at the Evian Championship where she finished in third place just one shot out of a playoff for the title. The thirty-six-year-old has shown in the past that she has the game to contend on tough courses in major championships and if the putter gets hot as it can do Kirk could easily find herself in contention this week.
Kirk will tee off at 9:10 am alongside Korean Amy Yang and Czech youngster Klara Spilkova
LPGA rookie West Australian Hannah Green made a fantastic start to her LPGA career with a 3rd place finish at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in February, however the 21-year-old has struggled slightly in recent months and has not had a top 40 finish since her tie for 16th place at the ANA Inspiration in March. Green will need to find another gear this week if she is to contend, she also has the added pressure of fighting her way into the Australian team which will compete at the International Crown in October this year.
Green had until recently been sitting comfortably as Australia's third-ranked player in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but has now slipped out of the team after solid performances from Oh and Smith and would need a top 10 finish this week to have any chance of passing one of those two players.
Karrie Webb has played only five tournaments in 2018 as she settles into semi-retirement.
In the past few years the 43-year-old has seen her world ranking drop down to 145 having been the highest ranked Australian since the Rolex Rankings began in 2006. Webb has watched on as Lee, Oh, Smith, Kirk and Green have all jumped ahead of her and is now our 6th highest ranked player.
Webb did show glimpses of form at the Kingsmill Championship earlier in May where she finished tied for 19th, perhaps returning to Chicago may be the spark Webb needs to find her best form, she has great memories of the windy city which was the scene of her 2001 US Women’s Open triumph at the Merit Club.
Webb will tee off at 1:40pm in a marquee group with 2016 US Women’s Open Champion Brittany Land and Thai star Moriya Jutanagarn.
LPGA rookie, New-South-Welshwoman Rebecca Artis, has taken some time to settle in on the LPGA Tour in 2018, however the 29-year-old will come to Kemper Lakes with some confidence restored following her tie for 27th place finish last week in Arkansas, the best finish of her short LPGA career.
Artis will tee off at 9:30 am alongside South African Paula Reto and fiery Danish player Nanna Koertz Madsen.
Wendy Doolan also finds herself back on the major championship stage this week. The 49-year-old from Sydney now has her own teaching academy in Fairfield, Ohio and received a spot in the field by virtue of her performances in the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional division events she has competed in.
Doolan will tee off at 9:20 am alongside Thai Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras and American Sandra Changkija.
The favourites for the tournament this week will be recently crowned US Women’s Open Champion Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, World No. 1-ranked and three-time Champion Inbee Park and Defending Champion Danielle Kang.
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko already has one victory to her name on the LPGA Tour in 2018 and is starting once again to look like the player who became the youngest ever number 1 ranked player at just 17 years of age.
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